Rebels seek to avoid a Jimmer-geddon

PROVO, UTAH — Here’s a thought for UNLV’s basketball team: Perhaps the Rebels today should go all-Loyola (Md.) on Jimmer Fredette, employing the type of junk triangle-and-two defense the Greyhounds did against Stephen Curry a few years ago.

Curry was leading the nation in scoring at the time for Davidson, and Loyola had two defenders shadow him while three others were left to guard four bodies.

Curry went scoreless.

His team won by 30.

Yeah. Maybe the Rebels should try something else.

"We haven’t seen anyone do that out of a triangle-and-two yet, so I guess we haven’t seen it all," Brigham Young coach Dave Rose said. "But we have seen a lot. It’s hard to predict what people are going to do."

UNLV should at least try something different from what it offered Jan. 5, when Fredette scored 39 points and the Cougars pasted the Rebels 89-77 in a game at the Thomas & Mack Center that wasn’t as close as the final margin suggests.

It would also help UNLV if someone remembers to defend guard Jackson Emery this time. He scored 22 points and went 6-of-9 on 3s last month.

But that’s the hard part about playing BYU right now.

It’s all Jimmer, all the time.

There is no way to prepare for him completely because there is no way scout-team players can mimic his unpredictability as a scorer. You can set a defense, discuss tendencies and switch every screen, and still not stop him.

BYU initiates much of its offense off ball screens for Fredette, allowing him to pause before deciding which of many possibilities to choose. He finds space as well as any player in the country and creates shots better than anyone to have played at BYU. His ballhandling is terrific to the point that splitting double-teams is easier than finding snow atop the Wasatch Range.

What makes it even tougher: BYU doesn’t have to reach the rim consistently to score. Few teams do a better job at getting open shots, which means defenses have to extend and contest more, which means Fredette has more and more chances to drive.

"Normally, you have a game plan and then you have Plan B," Colorado State coach Tim Miles said. "With Jimmer, you have Plan C, as well. You can’t overthink it. Some of the stuff he gets is unavoidable.

"He’s a really smart player. He knows how to get fouled. He’s going to get his numbers. You just have to take (guarding) him as a challenge and hope to rise up to it."

Fredette played against Colorado State in Fort Collins two few weeks ago. He scored 42.

The trendy thing for some is to predict what type of NBA player Fredette will become. I couldn’t care less. He doesn’t guard many people at the college level, so I gather it will be even tougher for him staying in front of the world’s best athletes. He dominates the ball far more now than he will in the NBA, but his range is already at and beyond those shooting for large paychecks.

He might never start for an NBA team, but it’s easy to see him as a career player in the league. People find spots for players who can score like Fredette. Benches are full of such multi-millionaires. There are worse fates.

But for now, today, in this moment of a Mountain West Conference basketball season unlike no other, Fredette is the individual story nationally that San Diego State has been as a team. He leads the country in scoring with a 27.6 average, and three times he has gone for 42 or more.

He and BYU also present UNLV a huge opportunity. The Rebels begin the second half of league play two games out of first, but five of their final eight regular-season games are on the road. They’re all but competing for third place unless those in front surprisingly stumble more than a few times.

Winning here — where no conference team is expected to — would go a long way in keeping UNLV part of that national discussion and solidly in any bracketology forecast.

But winning here begins and ends with overcoming Fredette.

"You have to have kids excited to play against him, kids maybe willing to give some of their numbers on offense to focus on what needs to be done against him defensively," Texas Christian coach Jim Christian said. "It’s tough. It really depends on how he’s playing on a particular day."

Translation: Junk defenses need not apply. Fredette will have as much to say about what he does today as those Rebels trying to slow him.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can also be heard from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," FOX Sports Radio 920 AM.

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